1-800-858-1549, ext. 4458
FRANKFORT, Ky. – A new report detailing progress at the halfway point of Kentucky’s ambitious 10-year plan to boost quail populations in the state is now available to the public.
The five-year benchmark report shows large scale habitat work to provide quail better living conditions is paying off. In Hart County, for example, quail counts increased by 771 percent.
“In south-central Kentucky, we went from virtually no one hunting those areas to multiple reports of hunters flushing 11 coveys of quail a day – which has been unheard of for the past two to three decades,” said John Morgan, wildlife biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
Kentucky’s plan, titled the “Road to Recovery,” takes the giant approach to quail restoration.
“In the past, for many decades, our main focus was on releasing pen-raised quail. That’s what we thought we needed to do,” said Wildlife Biologist Ben Robinson, who co-authored the plan with Morgan. “After a lot of years and a lot of research, we figured out that didn’t really work.”
Realizing that simply releasing birds that were not hatched and raised in the wild wasn’t working, biologists instead focused on building a better home for wild quail by improving the landscape with habitat work.
“Most of these efforts were a shotgun approach,” Morgan noted. “They involved small areas of 10 to 100 acres. What this plan did was focus on thousands of acres in certain areas instead.”
In 2009, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife established six focus areas totaling 115,000 acres at Peabody Wildlife Management Area (WMA), Shaker Village, Clay WMA, Blue Grass Army Depot, and within Hart and Livingston counties.
What the plan attempts to do is recreate the landscape of Kentucky prior to 1900. This was a time when farmers allowed fields and fencerows to become overgrown and brushy, which provided ideal cover, food and habitat for small game such as quail.
Today’s farms have much more cleared fields to maximize production, while small landowners tend to plant fescue grass and keep the fields closely mowed for the sake of appearance. This recreational mowing eliminates badly needed habitat for wildlife.
Habitat work performed on private and public land under the quail recovery plan included burning fields to stimulate the growth of native grasses and plants; thinning thick stands of native grasses; disking fields to provide footholds for native plant seeds; and eradicating fescue. Workers also thinned edges where fields and tree lines met, to encourage brushy plant growth for wildlife habitat.
Birdwatcher Steve Kistler noted the birds returned quickly as areas of native plants expanded in Hart County. “They are once again easy to hear as we drive through the countryside … a nice conservation success,” he said in the report.
Robinson noted Shaker Village saw an increase of an estimated 10 coveys of quail to more than 50 coveys. A covey generally contains 10-12 birds.
“Shaker Village was one of our first successes and it played a critical role, serving as a proof of concept,” he said. “We proved that if enough habitat is in place, wild quail will respond.”
Morgan noted much work remains. “We want to establish one to two more focus areas while maintaining the ones that we already have,” he said. “Our vision is to create more success stories by telling people about the success that we’ve already enjoyed.”
The five-year benchmark report contains detailed assessment information about the challenges of carrying out the plan. Readers will find maps, statistics and in-depth information about each focus area.
The plan is available online at HERE. A limited number of individual copies may be obtained by calling the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Information Center at 1-800-858-1549 weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Eastern time).
The department also employs private lands biologists to assist landowners with improving the wildlife habitat on their property. Consultations are free and do not obligate landowners to open their property to hunting.
In some cases cost share assistance is available to do habitat improvements through state and local programs. Call Kentucky Fish and Wildlife for more information.